International compost awareness week is celebrated globally from 5th to 11th May 2024.

The community composting initiative at Scotch Quarry Urban Park in Lancaster shows the way for how neighbours can make a difference together, one food caddy at a time. 

This week marks International Compost Awareness Week, a global initiative to promote the benefits of composting and raise awareness about the importance of putting valuable resources to good use. As we navigate through the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation, composting emerges as a simple yet powerful solution that individuals and communities can adopt to make a significant impact.

Composting is essentially nature’s way of recycling. It involves the decomposition of organic materials like food scraps, garden waste and other biodegradable items into nutrient-rich soil. This process not only reduces the amount of waste ending up in landfills but also creates a valuable resource that enriches soil quality, enhances plant growth, and mitigates erosion.

Community composting initiatives bring neighbours together to collectively manage organic waste, turning it into a valuable resource for both private and community gardens. 

One such community composting initiative was started at Scotch Quarry Urban Park in Lancaster. A group of residents local to the Scotch Quarry Park area got together in September 2023 to assemble two wooden community compost bins. The bins are specially designed to be rat-proof to avoid any problems with rodents getting attracted to food scraps. 

Since then, 20 households have been emptying their food caddies into the bins, creating a steady stream of food waste to turn into valuable compost over time. There is already a waiting list of people waiting to take part once more bins are added in future. 

“It’s been really cheering to see how committed local residents are to contributing their peelings and an appropriate balance of cardboard and other dry materials. And because I am one of the monitors and involved in checking and stirring the bins regularly, it’s fascinating to see how all these things are rotting down into rich dark compost to keep the food production cycle going. Passers-by often stop to have a look when I’ve got the bin lids open, as they are also fascinated by the process.”  

Sue, one of the compost monitors who look after the community bins at Scotch Quarry Park

The community composting scheme is run on a membership basis to manage materials going in the bins and the volume. Raw kitchen scraps and lots of torn up cardboard are the two ingredients which are turned weekly by compost monitors. Membership is growing as more local residents spot the bins and sign up.

The new bins are located near the community growing area, with the compost destined to be used by members, in the raised community growing beds and for the Moorlands window box scheme.

“The community composting scheme is great for someone like me. I’ve always wanted to be more proactive in how I dispose of our food waste. But I didn’t have the time, knowledge, skills or space in our small backyard to set up our own composting bin. Being part of the Scotch Quarry scheme means I’ve had some advice on what food I can put in, and all I have to do is collect it in the caddy and take it down to the bins. It’s so great to know that our composting monitors have the technical knowledge around temperatures, turning, air circulation and so on. I also love the fact that the resulting compost will be used back in our local community and I’ll be able to access it for my pots and window box flowers.”

Sharon, a community member who participates in the scheme

One of the greatest benefits of composting lies in its ability to combat climate change. When organic waste decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. By diverting organic waste to compost heaps instead of waste bins, we can significantly reduce methane emissions and help combat climate change. Producing compost locally also means less waste has to be transported, and less compost bought in as fertiliser for local gardens. 

“Composting helps us to recognise that plant materials are not actually “waste” but instead a valuable resource that we can add back to the soil. By composting plant material we can divert it from landfill or from being burnt, both of which release greenhouse gases. When we return compost back to soil it protects it from erosion, drought and flooding; puts carbon back in the ground and it is great for soil, plant and people’s health.

Diana McIntyre, Closing Loops Community Composting Coordinator at LESS (Lancaster District) CIC

As the community at Scotch Quarry is showing, composting together with neighbours is a fun way to reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal, make good use of shared public spaces, strengthen social ties and promote a sense of shared responsibility for the environment.

The Scotch Quarry initiative is one of currently five community composting demonstration sites in Lancaster District, with more in progress. They are supported by Closing Loops, a National Lottery funded project run by North Lancashire’s sustainable food network FoodFutures. More information about these demonstration sites and free resources on composting are available at www.foodfutures.org.uk/composting.

As we celebrate International Compost Awareness Week, let’s all embrace the composting revolution and cultivate a healthier planet for generations to come.

If you’d like to learn more about composting as a way to take climate action, join the free talk at Christ Church on 4 June. And if you run a business in North Lancashire, come for the session on composting business food waste on 18 June

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